The Trump administration wants to cap the number of refugees admitted into the US at the lowest number since the resettlement programme was created in 1980.
A State Department proposal released on Thursday would put a cap on the number of refugees at 18,000 for the fiscal year that starts on October 1.
Last year, the administration placed the cap at a record low of 30,000. The limit has drawn protests from human rights groups as well as government officials.
Donald Trump’s final decision on the cap must include consultation with Congress, which could push for a higher total.
The White House issued a separate order that requires added consultation with states and localities about settlement of refugees in specific areas.
Of the refugee admission places, 5,000 would be set aside for persecuted religious minorities — an attempt to bolster Mr Trump’s heightened focus on global religious freedom — and 1,500 would be set aside for nationals of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, who are seeking asylum in the United States in far greater numbers.
Ryan Mace, grassroots advocacy and refugee specialist at Amnesty International USA, said: “To cut the number of refugees the US will accept to this low of a number reflects nothing more than this administration’s attempts to further hate, division and prejudice in a country that once valued dignity, equality and fairness.”
The group dismissed arguments that the US lacks the capacity to adequately vet and settle refugees, calling this “a purely political decision”.
A senior Trump administration official described the proposed new designations for religious minorities and other groups of notable importance to US strategic goals as a positive step forward.
The changes would connect refugee “admissions directly to US national security and foreign policy priorities,” said the official.